The Careful Editor

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Regift… paper April 12, 2010

Filed under: green living,saving — raffydarko @ 10:55 am
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When it comes to creativity, I’m a slacker. I’m always afraid of not being too good at making things with my hands… I know it’s silly, since I can’t judge the results of what I haven’t even tried. (I envy  people who are able to modify clothes, I should find someone to teach me.)

But at least I can reuse some things as they are. Wrapping paper, for example. I just received some birthday presents with a lovely wrapping which I will surely reuse. The lilac one in the picture is a metallic envelope; the flowery one is made of a very thin paper, with a second layer underneath in burgundy – very classy! It comes from a luxury perfume shop (thanks to myboyfriend for giving me a wonderful niche fragrance). The pink one: genius. It’s tissue, it used to wrap an Easter egg and my very creative almost-sister in law used it to wrap her present. Tissue as wrapping paper is very practical, since it can be ironed before reusing.

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I love swapping April 5, 2010

Filed under: saving — raffydarko @ 4:42 pm
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Swapping is the new shopping, they say. Oh yeah!

I found in a drawer a diary I had never used, they gave me a T-shirt for it. A body lotion was replaced by mineral foundation. In place of a book I got a DVD. These and many other swaps happened through two sites, http://www.bigwardrobe.com/ and http://www.makeupalley.com/swap and cost me nothing – except those few euros needed to post my things.

The first is the best one: BigWardrobe (UK-based) was created for swapping exclusively and trades work as on eBay. You can contact a user to offer a swap, then make a formal offer for the item and after trade is completed (which means both parts have received their ends) you leave feedback. It’s free, though you can have your address verified (thus becoming a more trustworthy swapper) by the site admins, after paying a small sum through PayPal. Each user has a virtual notice board and can build a network by adding friends as on Facebook. Clothes and accessories are the most swapped items, but almost any kind of item can be found on the site. Oh, and one can choose to swap or sell or be open to both options.

MakeUpAlley (US-based) is great for finding cosmetic brands from other countries or trying new stuff without the guilt of spending money on it. Just don’t be fastidious about used m.u.: lipsticks can be cleaned, eyepencils sharpened and brushes washed. The downsize of the site is that it is about reviews and forum debates rather than swapping: users list their items, contact other users, make a private agreement, leave a token (feedback) and that’s all. Site admins don’t meddle in swaps, home addresses can’t be verified and anybody could leave tokens to anybody, even if no swap had ever occurred between the two parts. As a result, swaplifters (people who get items, especially from new users, and send nothing in return) abound. That said, I was swaplifted just once and my experience in general is very good. If I buy a product which I then find out is not right for me, I put it up for swap right away instead of hiding it in my drawer until it expires.

Thanks to swapping, I was able to find a new home for some nice things which I wasn’t using anymore, which made decluttering a more pleasant experience. I discovered my favourite mineral m.u. brand, Everyday Minerals, through a swap. I could try the fabulous eyepencils by Urban Decay. I got organic skincare products, Abercrombie and Fitch tops, great books, nice shoes… And the best swappers also include some extras in their packets, be them cosmetic samples or teabags. I once swapped for a green eyepencil and I received *three* eyepencils in different shades of green! And yes, I love green eyepencils.

 

A used pink bathrob. A rare mint snowglobe… March 31, 2010

Filed under: selling — raffydarko @ 8:26 am
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A Smurf TV tray. I bought on eBay.

Everything relevant about eBay has already been sung by Al Yankovic. But his wonderful song is about buying (crap), not selling. I’ve been a seller (and a bargainer too) since 2003. I love selling the stuff I don’t use anymore since I dislike clutter and like to have some money on my PayPal account, but it’s not that easy. Here are some thoughts on my experience.

Selling fees – Of course, this is one of the cons of eBay. eBay takes a fee for every ad (with some exceptions for items sold at second try), then a percentage of the final price – and PayPal gets a percentage too. It’s a bummer, but PP is still the easiest payment method. Be aware: PP’s laws usually protects the buyer, not the seller. Having a controversy with PP as a seller can be a lost cause (not my experience, luckily, but you’ll find many horrific stories on line).

Saleability – Some items are easy to sell, others not so much (though of course sheer luck always counts). I usually put up for sale clothes and shoes and only some are sold, sometimes after several tries. Despite the low starting prices, despite the good quality (and photographs) of the items and despite their brands. (I blame it a little on Italians actually: maybe they are more cautious than foreign ebayers? They ask for

more photographs or info and then don’t bid – even if the starting price is as low as € 0,99! When I offer international shipping, I sell things more easily.) Things go smoother when I try to sell DVDs or videogames, of course (CDs are out of fashion unfortunately). Rare pieces can be a safe bet and get many bids. They don’t have to be vintage in order to be rare – once I sold a DVD of a movie which was only a few years old but, as I found out, had been distributed in few copies. (Which shows how useful is to do some research on eBay as well as other sites before putting things on sale.) Electronics can be easy to sell too, but market value goes down soon. Books are unpredictable: sometimes virtually unknown titles and authors are sold immediately, and big names aren’t. If you’re lucky you’ll find a connoisseur!

Absent-minded buyers – Buyers can make things hard too. I had one who gave me an incomplete address, the package was returned after a while and the buyer wanted her money back. Now I always check the address on Google, if it’s complete, a GoogleMaps indication always comes up. Some pay by postal order and write my name or address wrong. Another buyer paid me the item but not the shipping. And the item was priced € 1 – how could he not think it was enough totally? After some time he wrote to me asking if I could find a similar item for him… on eBay. Was his search button broken?

Addiction – Yep! Selling can be an addiction too. It’s like betting and betting – “this time I will sell it”. Be generous: sometimes your unsold stuff belongs to the Red Cross bin – or maybe some friend might use it.

In conclusion, I think selling on eBay can be rewarding after all but it takes some perseverance. Selling at low prices can be frustrating, but if one sells some items regularly there is a margin of gain. And if you want to sell stuff easily, buy quality stuff first and maintain it in good condition – which smart consumers should always do anyway.

 

Kitekat and the art of saving March 30, 2010

Filed under: saving — raffydarko @ 9:23 am
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Our cat eats too much. At least he seems to be eating all the time, since we moved house and he started staying inside most of the time. He’s always trying to get food by whining and whining, unless I ignore him and he reverts to more constructive and healthy hobbies like tearing toilet paper into pieces. Anyway. The 12-pack of catfood, which once lasted a week, now is empty before you know! According to a guide, a cat like Spooky should eat more or less 250 grams of food a day. So I began to make a sign on the writing board on the fridge every 50 grams I gave him and now I’m sure I’m not giving him more than it’s healthy.

Just out of curiosity, I made calculations about how much he costs us in catfood if we stick to the right amount every day. In this case we have to buy 76 packs a year, which means more or less € 300. What if instead, hipotetically, we gave him 300 g a day? That’d make 91 packs per year, € 360 totally. Wow! We can save € 60 a year simply by keeping track of our cat’s eating. Which totally makes sense, since he’s a recurring cost (I hate to call my lovely hand-muncher a “cost” but you know what I mean.) And the central point of recurring costs is that, well, they are recurring – you don’t care much about what you’re spending a single time, but you start caring if you do some maths. It’s a ah-ha! moment.

So, how much can you save by being careful about recurring expenses? € 60 might not be a lot of money, but what about saving € 60 a year in other fields as well? It might sound tiring and cheap to have to check every area of expense, but really it’s just a matter of taking a habit, of thinking about those everyday actions we usually take for granted. And sometimes not wasting is enough to save, so it’s just common sense.

Water is one of the things most taken for granted in the Western world, object of much wasting, especially by showering and flushing. Do we really need long showers? Wouldn’t we be clean and relaxed enough after a few minutes? I’ve also read in more than one on-line place about a tip for not wasting the water from the shower which is not hot yet: just gather it in a bucket and use it for flushing. (Not recommendable if you have guests though.)

Electricity and heating in the winter are two areas where being careful and reducing consumption can really save a lot (many old condos in Italy still have central heating and some flats are so hot that people have to open windows!) so a programmable thermostat is a must. (20 °C is the healthiest temperature.)

Anything you use on a daily basis might be used in less quantity. One doesn’t have to make terrible sacrifices: just choose the areas where reducing is possible and maybe smarter, the possibilities are more than one thinks.

Using your washing machine? The measure of detergent that’s really necessary is always inferior to the one recommended by producers, which, at lower temperatures (30/40°) can even be harmful, leaving residue on clothes. Try and find the right quantity for your machine and water type. If you use Colour-Catcher and the clothes you’re washing are not so bright-coloured or not so new, use just half a sheet.

There are also expenses which can be just cut. Many of us pay yearly subscriptions for magazines they then get tired of, or for TV channels they stop watching that much after a while. Just set your priorities. If you love to buy/rent dvds, don’t pay for more channels on tv (I, being a film lover, do buy a lot of cheap dvds on http://www.play.com, where I can find films which aren’t released in Italy).

Readers: what do you do about recurring expenses?

[Picture: it’s him! The hero of this story.]

 

Goodbye Swiffer! March 29, 2010

Filed under: green living — raffydarko @ 3:26 pm
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I love Swiffer as the next person: it’s a great invention, it’s handy and easy to use, it catches all dust – and who doesn’t hate dust? But it’s disposable, anti-ecological then, and expensive.

I’ve been looking for a cheap alternative, so I was thrilled when in a forum I was given this idea: use pile cloths instead. “Pile”, as an English term used in Italian, indicates a soft textile made 100% of polyester, which is used for sport garments – the correct term should be polar fleece.

Well, being totally synthetic, this textile generates electrostatics, so it really works as well as Swiffer. And of course can be reused and reused after it’s washed. Check out my new colourful Swiffer-surrogates, made from an old scarf!

 

Not so skin deep

Filed under: green living — raffydarko @ 1:19 pm
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It’s almost 10 years since I discovered organic cosmetics. I used to wash my hair with some Garnier shampoo then and I thought the 3 phases treatment by Clinique was the best for my face. Little did I know about what these products contain and I lived peacefully without knowing. But one day I started having problems: my scalp was itching and had crusty spots. The dermatologist I saw prescribed me a shampoo for dermatitis, which didn’t change the situation much.

One day, doing some research on the web, I ran into an e-commerce site which sold shampoos and other cosmetics made with hemp – they were described as lacking in SLS, among other things. SLS, sodium lauryl sulfate: that’s how I found out that shampoos usually contain a large quantity of this substance, a surface-active agent which helps foam forming and is also very irritating. A bell rang. Could that be just the cause of my problems, that I had become intolerant to SLS? I bought some shampoo and conditioner from the site and tried. Well, yes: my dermatitis went away, and moreover my hair, which tends to be greasy, now was shiny and displayed a lovely colour. It didn’t happen immediately, because my scalp had to adapt, sort of, to the new chemicals used on it – which, as I then found out, is quite common. For a while my hair felt heavy after washing, but after the first tries it was like reborn. And the hemp conditioner: pure delight! Apparently hemp is chemically akin to human skin, which makes it a perfect “ally” for our beauty and health.

I gradually changed my whole beauty routine, making some mistakes along the way (a face cream by Lush once filled my face with strange pimples!) but ending up with nice and healthy hair and skin. Organic cosmetics are not cheap, but using them is indeed being a smart consumer. Besides, these products don’t have to be used in large amounts to work and they last long. And – you don’t need to buy many products if you are using some quality ones.

I started getting information about the ingredients of cosmetics, their dangers, and the so-called “natural” alternatives, by reading discussion by experts in dermatology and chemistry and consumers. Now I knew each product has on its label a list of ingredients called INCI, and the position of each ingredient on it varies according to the quantity. It’s laughable, for example, that some shampoos are marketed as “made with extract of the extraordinary flower from New Guinea” when said extract is ingredient number 30 on a long list… (I’m making up the flower but you sure have heard a lot of marketing stunts like this!)

Besides SLS, worst offenders include petrolatum, which comes from petrol (yes) and clog the pores. Traditional foundations abound in petrolatum, which explains why face skin after a while gets greasy. There are hundreds of substances that are better avoided and for different reasons: some are irritating, some pollute the environment, some are of animal origin, some can even be absorbed by our body or be suspected carcinogens. We have to be careful about the matter: there are many hoaxes going around on the web, which somehow belittle the validity of all the studies about the danger in the chemicals of everyday use.

Chemist Fabrizio Zago has compiled a huge directory called Biodizionario, giving his own evaluation of the chemicals found in cosmetics (and cleaners). It can be easily consulted by everyone around the world since it uses a red/yellow/green code. It’s particularly useful for a specific reason: it’s not just the certified organic products which are green – sometimes even a cheap wash or shampoo bought at the grocery store can turn out to be a safe one.

Italian users can find useful information about natural cosmetics in the site Sai Cosa Ti Spalmi and its discussion board (which includes a directory of hundreds of INCIs analyzed by the users). The lazy ones can get started by reading SCTS’s first on line magazine issue, with its clear article about the first steps to knowing organic cosmetics.

It’s nice to know that by treating better our Earth, we can also cuddle ourselves.

 

Hello everybody

Filed under: TCE — raffydarko @ 1:11 pm
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This is the version 2.0 of a blog with the same name which was published on blogspot.com. I’m reproposing the old posts before posting some new ones.

The blog is run by a struggling book editor named Raffaella living in Italy, more exactly in that green flat land in the North called Pianura Padana. This is my first attempt at writing a blog in a continuative way, in English moreover. The fact is, it’s now 2 years since I discovered the big world of “frugal blogs” and such: blogs about saving money, spending smartly – living on less, but also living well, making choices based on our personal priorities, smart choices, green choices also. A new way of facing the consumerist world we live in. I found it all fascinating and the ideas on the blogs I read start rubbing on me. I’ve never been careful about money before but somehow I felt I needed to. Too much unsatisfying shopping had left the mark, and I started to be a smart – at least, smarter – consumer, to educate myself and experiment. I remember when I realized it’d be wiser to buy store brand chips instead of the expensive ones… Er, yes, one has to begin somewhere.

So, as you can see, careful here has a double meaning. Hope you enjoy your visit!